Difference Between ALS and MS

Main Difference – ALS vs MS

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and MS (Multiple Sclerosis) are two neurodegenerative diseases which have a negative impact on our central nervous system including the brain and spinal cord, thus creating a disruption in the functioning of muscles and nerves. The main difference between ALS and MS is that ALS only affects the motor functions of the body whereas MS affects both motor functions and sensory functions.

In this article, we’ll discuss,

1. What is MS?
     – Definition, Pathophysiology, Types, Signs and symptoms, Causes, Treatment

2. What is ALS?
     – Definition, Pathophysiology, Types, Signs and symptoms, Causes, Management

3. What is the difference between ALS and MS?Difference Between ALS and MS - Comparison Summary

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

MS is an autoimmune neurodegenerative disorder, which affects the brain and spinal cord, resulting in a broad range of signs and symptoms associated with visual disturbances, dysfunction of limb movements, balance, and sensation. Being a lifelong condition with several debilitating features, some affected individuals might experience mild-moderate features, possibly reducing the quality of life.

As far as the pathophysiology of this condition is considered, some abnormality in the function of our immunity system would act in a way which damages the myelin sheath – the protective layer covering nerves. The damages and scar formation taking place over a long period of time will ultimately slow down the transmission of nerve impulses or completely halt them. Although the exact etiology for the immune system to act this way is not clear, some scientists suggest that genetics and environmental factors play a major role in initiating the autoimmune process.

MS owns a significant female predominance with a female: male of 3:1; most diagnosed individuals are of 20-30 years of age.


There are two major types of MS:

  • Relapsing-remitting MS – Patients with this type of MS will experience completely new episodes or worsening symptoms (relapses), which usually last for few days and slowly improve within a similar duration. The period between these attacks is known as Remission which can last as long as for few years.
  • Primary progressive MS – Patients with this type of MS will experience gradually worsening symptoms over years without any remission periods.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of MS usually vary from one person to another. Commonest presentation of MS can affect any part of the body and include:

  • Easy fatigability
  • Difficulty in walking and limb movements
  • Disturbances of vision including visual blurriness
  • Bladder incontinence
  • Numbness and tingling sensation of the body
  • Muscle stiffness and spasms
  • Difficulty in maintaining balance and co-ordination
  • Disturbances related to cognitive functions such as thinking, learning, and planning


There is no permanent cure for MS, but early interventions can definitely slow down the progress and limit disabilities. Treating relapses with steroids, symptom specific treatment and disease modifying therapy play main roles in the therapeutic management of MS.Difference Between ALS and MS

What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder which has a significant negative impact on neurons in the brain and spinal cord. ‘A-MY0-TROHPIC’ is a Greek term which means no-muscle-nourishment resulting in wasting of muscles. Lateral side of the spinal cord is responsible for sending nerve impulses to control and signal muscular movements and this condition itself will ultimately lead to damage and scarring of this area causing sclerosis.


There are two types of ALS:

  • Sporadic ALS – commonest form of ALS accounting for 90-95% of affected individuals.
  • Familial ALS – An inherited form of ALS with an incidence of around 5% of affected individuals.

Signs and Symptoms

Onset of signs, symptoms and their progression will vary from one person to another and usually starts with the group of muscles responsible for limb movements and swallowing. Other typical features of ALS include,

  • Gradual, painless and progressive muscle weakness and paralysis – key feature
  • Tripping and dropping things
  • Unusual fatigability of upper and lower limbs
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle cramping and twitching
  • Uncontrollable episodes of laughing or crying
  • Shortness of breath (due to respiratory muscle paralysis at later stages)

ALS only impairs the motor functions in our body; sensory parts such as vision, hearing, tasting and touch are completely intact.


A complete clinical history and neurological examination along with a comprehensive series of diagnostic studies are mandatory in establishing an accurate diagnosis of ALS. Major modalities of diagnosis include,

  • Electro diagnostic tests (Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV))
  • Blood tests (high resolution serum protein electrophoresis)
  • Hormonal analysis (thyroid and parathyroid hormone levels)
  • 24-hour urine collection for heavy metals
  • Spinal tap
  • X-rays, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Myelogram of cervical spine
  • Nerve biopsy


There is no permanent cure for ALS, but symptomatic management plays an important role in limiting disabilities.

Main Difference - ALS vs MS

Difference Between ALS and MS


MS is an autoimmune neurodegenerative disorder, which affects the brain and spinal cord by disrupting the myelin sheath (protective sheet which covers neurons). 

ALS is a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disorder which has a significant negative impact on neurons in the brain and spinal cord.


MS mainly causes sensory disturbances and can show temporary impairment of muscle movements and temperature sensitivity. 

ALS will only impair muscle movements where sensations are completely intact.


Patients suffering from MS will experience easy fatigability, difficulty in walking and limb movements, disturbances of vision including visual blurriness, bladder incontinence, numbness, tingling sensation of the body, muscle stiffness, and spasms. 

Patient with ALS will usually show progressive muscle weakness ultimately ending up with paralysis, muscle cramping, twitching and slurred speech.


Both MS and ALS do not have a permanent cure, but symptomatic management can have a significant role to be played in reducing the rate of mortality and morbidity.

Image Courtesy:

“Multiple Sclerosis” By BruceBlaus – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

“ALS Cross” by Frank Gaillard – http://radiopaedia.org/uploads/radio/0001/2685/ALS_12.jpg?1254955756 (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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